Ritual Animal Slaughter and Public Morality: a Comment on the Decision of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal

A landmark case of a constitutional court can be told by its impact on consecutive judgments and our understanding of constitutional law and practice. Yet, in the jurisprudence of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal (further as CT or the Tribunal), there are a handful of cases considered as landmark decisions not because of their outcome or the way they are decided, but because the Tribunal got them wrong. In this sense, the Polish ritual animal slaughter case is a landmark decision.

In this case, the CT had to decide whether the Act on animal protection,[1] which mandated that vertebrate animals are killed after being stunned subject to criminal sanctions, violates constitutional freedom of religion of members of a Jewish community. Although the constitutional review was initiated on an abstract motion of the Union of Jewish religious communities, the Tribunal went beyond its scope and held, in a 9-to-5 decision, that the law is unconstitutional, insofar as it did not allow ritual slaughter. The Tribunal did not specify that the law should recognize rights of a particular religious community and its members who wish to observe religious dietary rules. Instead the Tribunal found that ritual slaughter as a method of killing animals is constitutional regardless of whether it is performed by a pious slaughterer as a form of a religious practice intended to provide kosher (halal) meat for local consumption or by an employee of a slaughter house producing tons of kosher (halal) meat for export, and for profit. It was quite a surprise that in this case the Tribunal indirectly balanced the public interest of animal protection against economic freedom, and decided in favour of the latter.

Such decision of the Polish Tribunal was not necessary because the claim of the Jewish religious community was based solely on religious grounds ...

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